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Parallel Disasters

By: James Dowley

Owner/Investor/ Old Globe Cafe

I recently read an article entitled “Tightwads Legacy”. It documented the actions of one Bill Gottlieb, a property buyer in Manhattan who amassed a portfolio of over 100 properties…and then died. He boarded up his holdings or rented them out without maintaining them. He died eight years ago and now his fractious family remains, deadlocked in a fight over ownership.

It sounds bad, it’s actually much worse. No viable resolution due to a family of bickering heirs who are unable to unravel ownership and responsibility. The buildings are falling apart awaiting decisions.  Now if you live in Gila or Pinal County all of this might begin to sound achingly familiar. Dr. Glenn Wilt is an example of an investor who owns a large numbers of properties, over fifty. There are other owners of multiple properties in poor condition, but Dr. Wilt is the most glaringly obvious. 

Here is what you get from all of this. Dilapidated structures, moving slowly but surely towards death themselves. Crossing the border from possible savior to facing down the bulldozer. For example, the Elks Lodge in Globe was built in 1910. It is a magnificent structure of true historic worth., stated to be the tallest three story building in the World. It has a leaking roof, rotting windows and is boarded up.

James Dowley at his building in Globe which took a year to restore. Photo by LCGross
James Dowley, reflecting on the investment it takes to tackle historic preservation, is seen here at his building in Globe which took a year to restore. Photo by LCGross

The issue for me is this; with ownership comes responsibility. If you want to collect postage stamps or pokeman cards, have at it, treat yourself. It does not impact the community that you live in. When you take on ownership of buildings everything changes. You have a responsibility for caring for what we all walk by, see daily… the heart of a town. Life is not monopoly. It is not a game and it is not about ego. Life is love, family, friendship, experiences and community. We are all in this together. I do not believe anyone should have ownership of property unless they are willing and able to take care of it.

Who does care? Well, it seems that local council members are beginning to take action. The City of Superior demolished one of Dr. Wilt’s properties and sent him a bill for the work. Other towns in the immediate area are beginning to push back on behalf of their citizens. My sense of it is that we are at a tipping point, where citizens are taking a stronger interest in what their communities stand for,  and the buildings that are part of them. So, if I am right, what next? Try this scenario on for size.  Dr. Wilt decides he wants to be part of the solution. He sells some of the buildings and uses the funds to set up a “Dr. Glenn Wilt Trust”. Local contractors mentor young people within the community and pass on skills in building restoration. Carpentry, plumbing, electrical and painting apprenticeships evolve. Buildings on the brink of death are pulled back and revived and then rented out to small businesses or provide apartment living within town. Dr. Wilt gets a solid income stream and a much improved reputation as a man who gave back to the community.

It’s a possible solution. Right now, we know what the problem is, we need to find ways of resolving the difficulties faced because otherwise the ongoing troubles with these buildings will replicate Bill Gottlieb’s heirs in Manhattan, not an enviable position.  So, to the owners of dilapidated buildings, the right decision lies with you. Your buildings with leaky roofs, plywood windows and tired facades tell the story. With ownership comes responsibility. You have the choice as to how the story will be told with the years that come.

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